28 November 2006

General whining.

Why do I keep running from my novel? Why do I keep messing around on this damn blog! I am a wimp! Wimpity wimp wimp wimp! Egad! Self-flagellation and stuff!

Okay I'm done.

Really, I didn't do too badly today. I got a pretty good run through part of chapter whatever. I probably would have gotten farther except I kept messing around with blogs and i-Tunes.

Then I crashed into the next scene, crashed and burned. I got up and started picking through the wreckage, but by then my work day was over and it was time to fetch the kid.

I do wish that I could turn off the internet on my work machine. 'Course, I'd just turn it back on again.

27 November 2006

Reality trips up the fantasy novel.

I was wanting to chase my tribe of raccoons out of the forest where they've lived for ages. Initially I had loggers coming in and clearing out the white oaks, but that made the raccoon's leaving too slow. Then I thought, a big fire would get them right out of the forest and I won't have all these slow chapters. But how many class C fires do we have in the local forests? None. If there's a fire, it just creeps along the leaves on the forest floor and smolders a lot.

Also, when I take a cursory look at literature online about Missouri forest fires, even the larger fires won't kill off most mature white oaks (which is what I need to do to chase the raccoons out). Not to mention that most of the forest fire literature pertains to the forests in the Ozarks, which are massive and also have more pines, which burn better than your decidious hardwoods.

I could just whip up a fire like the ones they have in the west, but then that wouldn't be true to what I'm trying to do -- write a book that uses natural history responsibly. If I put the fire in, then I'd have to mess up the whole ecosystem by adding plants that are more fire-prone but simply don't exist in the area, then adjust the ecosystem accordingly .... That's just a headache I don't need.

Even when writing fantasy, I have to keep it true to life.

I'll just have to figure out a different way to keep those early chapters moving.

24 November 2006

What fresh hell is this!

Just saw the trailer for the live-action Charlotte's Web movie that's coming out next month.

Hell's bells! The trailer manages to squeeze in a fart joke. Yep, that's what Andy always did for a laugh in his books! He was the Captain Underpants of his day. His editor, Harold Ross of the New Yorker, was also enamored of his scatalogical humor. "We need more goddammed fart jokes!" he'd often bellow into Andy's office as he rushed past.

Andy resisted a movie version of Charlotte's Web for years, though he finally gave in in 1976. Not bad for a book published in 1953.

Says Andy:

"It is the fixed purpose of television and motion pictures to scrap the author, sink him without a trace, on the theory that he is incompetent, has never read his own stuff, is not reponsible for anything he ever wrote, and wouldn't know what to do about it even if he were. I belive this has something to do with the urge to create, and the only way a TV person or movie person can become a creator is to sink the guy who did it to begin with."

And on the Hanna-Barbera version:

"And I am also at work trying to get the bugs out of the screenplay of 'Charlotte's Web,' which was written by a Hollywood character whose knowledge of life on a New England farm is sub-marginal."

(And naturally after he sent in his changes they ignored them.)

To his lawyer:

"I want the chance to edit the script wherever anything turns up that is a gross departure or a gross violation. I also would like to be protected against the insertion of wholly new material -- songs, jokes, capers, episodes."

The man did his damndest. But money talks and the author walks.

You've probably seen the trailers for Stuart Little and Trumpet of the Swan. Lord. I'm standing there watching the trailers with my kid, going, "That wasn't in the book! And that wasn't in the book. And that totally wasn't in the book." It just floors me that you can lift a couple of characters out of somebody else's book, and write a screenplay loosely based on one or two of the events in the story, and then make a movie of it and get a big pile of money out of it.

Just so you know, I am trying my damndest to be sure my kid never sees those movies. Andy deserved better.

Here, go read this instead. It's an essay entitled "Andy," written by Roger Angell, his stepson, former editor of the New Yorker (just like his mom) and no slouch at the keyboard himself. Check out the parts where Andy's writing. That's what I most admire about him. That's what I want to be like.

How I spent Black Friday!

My daughter and I got up at the crack of dawn -- well, actually, about 7 a.m. -- and ate our cerial, and then ran out the door and jumped in the car.

And ended up at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

It was a great morning. I picked up seven new checkmarks in my Birds of Missouri book: Green-Winged Teal, Buffleheads, a Northern Harrier (a juvenile because its belly was chestnut -- scroll down the link to see a pic of a juvenile), Pintails, Canvasbacks, a Golden-Crowned Kinglet, and Pelicans! Also saw the usual Shovelers and Mallards and assorted geese and two juvenile bald eagles -- we'll see more at Eagle Daze next week. (Actually it's Eagle Days but I used to work the event as an MDC volunteer.)

Also saw a bunch of coots and a couple of grebes! Coots are actually not ducks but relatives of the Sandhill Crane. Coots look like a little black duck with a tiny white bill. But big old chicken feet. They're my favorite. Grebes are cute too. I'm really starting to like them, too.

And Miss Thing scored a little sticky frog and a wood duck that, when you squeeze it, sings its song. And we went for a walk on the bluffs where you see the whole refuge all laid out below you, and once in a while the snow geese rise into the air like a little white cloud and settle back down on the water again.

So we made out like bandits.

17 November 2006

They're at it again!

This time the book "And Tango Makes Three" is being challenged in Shiloh, Ill.

Sorry that my source is Fox News. "Fair and balanced" so far to the right it's going to fall over. So naturally the headline screams "Gay penguin book!"

They made a little reference to my local library at the end of the article. Actually, this library has branches in both Savannah and St. Joseph. When I'm in there, I pull the book from nonfiction and put it on top of the stacks with the other books on display. Just doing my part.

Higher education let me down.

So I said, "I'm going to do it. I'm going to enroll over at Hamline for their MFA program and get smart."

But first I talked to my boss. Which was good, because I found out that I can't do it. Hamline has their residencies in January and August, which are super-busy times here at the Journal. "We wouldn't be able to let you go for a whole week," said my boss. "I'm sorry."

Bummer. I sent an e-mail to Hamline: "Is there any way that I could at least study with some of these faculty without the residencies?"

They wrote back, "Nope! Maybe the job situation will lighten up."

Sorry, guys, not in a million years. (The Angus breed is getting popular and profitable, which is good for my job, but not good for making things less busy.)

Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. I really like this job, because of slow times (like right now), and they're super-generous regarding everything else. But they do expect you to be here during busy times and pull your weight -- fair enough.

It just bugs me that this program can't loosen up to help folks like me out. I need to stay in this job to support the family when my husband heads over to Waddell and Reed to work as a financial advisor. Also, it's nice to have money. Freelancing was cool, except I was working on everything else EXCEPT my novel because novels don't pay the bills. So it's like I keep my job so I can work on my novel!

I really need education and guidance, though, because I miss school and I want to move to the next level. The University of Iowa has correspondence courses for writers, though it's more for literary short stories. I'll be signing up for those.

I just hope I get a good teacher this time. I've taken a U of I correspondence class in the past. For the first half of the class, I had a great teacher; I wrote him letters and he'd answer every question in them and talk to me about the craft. Then the semester changed and I got a new teacher, one who disregarded my letters, and he'd mark up only the first few pages of my MS and say, "Okay, these are the problems, I don't need to mark up any more pages." In short, he was a dick.

Of course I could always tell the bosses if this happens again and get a different teacher, I hope.

14 November 2006

Big ol' book list!

Every time I see these big lists of books that tend to pop up on the blogs of various book fiends -- the 100 greatest books! 1001 great books to read before you die! -- I tend to get a little hacked, because my favorites aren't on there. Also, these lists never include poetry or nonfiction or children's books. Well, those days are over.

Here's my list of the books and poems on my bookshelves, the ones that I'd push on you or any innocent bystander that looks as if she could use a good read. Then you guys can copy the list and then complain about the books I should have been reading.

The Odyssey -- Homer
The Iliad, though I tend to skim the extended battle scenes.
Parts of Beowulf. Though the other day I was reading the Seamus Heaney translation and kept falling asleep. My fault, not his.
Dante's Commedia -- all of it. I seem to prefer the Mandlebaum translation, though I like what Sayers did with the tetra rima thing.
Bits and parts of the Canterbury Tales, though not enough bits to say that I have actually finished it. But Chaucer's cool.
Right now a big stack of Elizabeth Bishop poems, esp. "Sandpiper," "The Armadillo," "The Fish," and "The Moose." But I have "The Great Poet Returns" by Mark Strand stuck to the wall right now.
Four Quartets – T.S. Eliot
American Indian Poetry
Living on Fire – Virginia Hamilton Adair. She was about 83 when they published this. I saw some of her poems in the New Yorker and just had to have this book.
No! It was Ants on the Melon I had to have. But where the hell is my copy? Ai!
Gang of Poets anthology. This book isn’t not available anywhere; it’s just a small book the local Gang of Poets fixed up from our readings at Paper Moone Books, back in the day. All my buddies are in it, and me too. I miss those days!
Vita Nuova – Dante. This is the skeleton for the novel I want to write someday.
Complete Works of the Gawain-Poet – John Gardner. I like The Pearl best.
Also he did Gilgamesh.
I read Piers Plowman. And I don’t intend to make that same mistake twice. Sweet Jesus! I’m sorry, Dr. Slater, but this book is narcolepsy between two covers!
Media – Euripides.
The 1919 edition of the Oxford Book of English Verse. I found this in one of the boxes that Grandpa Vance brought home from an auction. It got left in the rain, though. I set it out in the sun to dry, and it got me through high school. I later got an updated edition so I could turn the pages without fear of crumbling. The paper’s like onionskin now.
Poetry of the Victorian Period. In high school, I turned to this book often, loving the flowery diction of the Victorians, but also trying to seek out bits of unannotated poetry quoted in St. Elmo (below).

Children's books
Dominic -- William Steig. I read it to my five-year-old daughter, editing on the fly, and she loves it. That dog is so filled with adventure and life.
Charlotte's Web -- EBW. Obviously.
His Dark Materials trilogy -- Philip Pullman. Especially love the world-building he does in Compass. I want to do that!
Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen – Garth Nix.
The Apple Stone – Nicholas Stuart Gray. Also The Seventh Swan. I never hear anything about this guy, but he was pretty good.
Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson. I got to tell Laurie, in person, that her books kick literary ass. She seemed to appreciate that.
A Girl Named Disaster – Nancy Farmer.
The Last Unicorn – Peter Beagle.
How the Mouse Deer Became King – Margueritte Harmon Bro.
Lyra’s Oxford – Philip Pullman. Stay tuned for The Book of Dust.
The Green Knowle books – L.M. Boston.
Any of the Magic books – Edward Eager. These books had me burning a low fever, yearning for magic, in my junior high years.
Homecoming – Cynthia Voigt.
Also, If She Hollers – Voigt.
Watership Down – Richard Adams.
The Darkangel trilogy – Meredith Ann Pierce. Awesome. Based on a dream recorded by Carl Jung.
The Babymouse books! Jennifer and Matt Holm. My girl and I like these a lot.

Essays and other stuff
Pretty much anything by E.B. White. During college I just devoured White essays by the bushelload. It did me good.
One Man’s Meat – E.B. White
The Points of My Compass – EBW
Those two are my favorite books of his essays, though technically I love ‘em all. Hey, if anybody has a copy of The Lady is Cold lying around that they don’t want, send it to me.
Anything by Thurber except for the stuff he wrote close to his death. My favorite collection is My World and Welcome To It.
Walden -- Thoreau. I like when he's in the canoe, playing the flute, and the fish swim to the top of the lake. This was EBW's favorite book.
Pygmalion – G.B. Shaw.
Best American Short Stories 1982 – collected by John Gardner. These stories illustrate what he thought good stories needed to do.
Maus – Art Spiegelman.
I like the Norton anthologies, except that I get so overwhelmed with the sheer number of stories in them that I can’t decide what to read and then I don’t read anything at all.

The Brothers Karamozov -- Dostky. I had such a crush on Alyosha, the first time (beyond my own Symphonians) that I'd developed a crush on a character from a book. But he's such a sweetheart!
Beloved -- Toni Morrison. Though I couldn't figure out that one stream-of-consciousness chapter.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I've read this one several times. After my semi-miscarriage (just a blighted ovum, said the docs, but I took it seriously), I read the whole trilogy straight through, over about four or five days. It helped.
St. Elmo -- Augusta Jane Evans. Sue me. This is the most flowery, antebellum Victorian novel you will ever lay eyes on. But this book was my big high school favorite. Oh, that romance just grabbed me.
The First Violin -- Jessie Fothergill. Another Victorian romance, this time about a young English singer and the noble first violinist.
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte. Read it outside of class.
Back When We Were Grownups – Anne Tyler. This woman can make these incredible characters, and I envy her skill. But not enough to actually write over 250 pages on my own characters, the way she does. Wimp.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon.
Earthsea trilogy PLUS Tehanu, Tales of Earthsea, and The Other Wind – LeGuin. Would that make it a hexology?
Also LeGuin's short-story collection, Unlocking the Air.
To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf. I keep not finishing it, but I keep starting it again, because something in me needs this book.
Lake Wobegon Days – Garrison Keillor.
The Dubliners – James Joyce.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – JJ.
Kissing in Manhattan – David Schickler. Especially his story “The Smoker,” which appeared in maybe the O. Henry collection.
“Catface” – Arthur Bradford. It’s in one of the O. Henry story collections, early ‘90’s, I think. For God’s sake, go read it. Craziest damn story you'll see anywhere.

Truman -- David McCullough. I have read this big hunk of book through several times, and it is so worthwhile, both for the portrait of the man and for the writing. After I read this, I became a certified Trumanophile.
Birds of Missouri. I checkmark the birds I’ve spotted.
The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants – Michael Dirr. This is a horticultural bible. And the man really knows his stuff.
Missouri Wildflowers – Studied this since I was in fifth grade.
How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method – J.I. Rodale. It’s old, but the information here is still very good.
The Rose Bible – Rayford Clayton Reddell. Luscious pics of roses (aka “garden porn”) as well as excellent care instructions and extensive rose history.
The New Organic Grower – Eliot Coleman. Even if you are not a small-acreage farmer, this is an excellent look at working with the soil and nature through good management and plant positive (as opposed to pest-negative) behaviors. Also info about raising greens and root vegetables through winter.
Mammals of Missouri – Charles Schwartz.
Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri – for the hardcore botanist. The MDC is coming out with a new, three-volume edition, but each volume takes about 15 years to compile.
Natural History of Raccoons – Doris MacClintock. I have to say I like her book better than Sterling North’s books.
The Well-Tempered Listener – Deems Taylor. A series of essays from his talks on music. Short and fun.
Score to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concertos 1, 2, and 3. Because you really don’t appreciate all the work the pianist has put into these performances until you are racing through the score to keep up with the piano, flipping pages so fast that all those black notes become a blur.
Assorted essays by humanist psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. Really interesting stuff.
The Discarded Image – C.S. Lewis. Great scholarship on the medieval way of thinking.
“Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen” – Alan Watts. That essay (published here as a pamphlet) put me on a Zen kick for a while in college.
The Power of Myth – Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell. Never saw the actual show this was based on, but what the hey, I have the book.
I wish that I could say that I love Santayana’s Life of Reason, but I can’t wrap my brain around it. I love Santayana, though, is that good enough?
Seven Roads to Hell – Donald Burgett. About Bastogne, where Grandpa Mike may have been stuck during WWII. Also wrote The Road to Arnhem, about Operation Market Garden and the Dutch Resistance (and Grandpa did for sure jump there).
Memories, Dreams, Reflections – Carl Jung. The man’s autobiography, parts of which are really … interesting.

Writing books
Elements of Style by Bill Strunk and EBW. I used to have this memorized.
The Art of Fiction – John Gardner. Yes, this book really changed my life!
On Becoming a Novelist – John Gardner.
On Writers and Writing – Gardner again.
Writing Fiction – Janet Burroway. Though many of the stories she included are real downers.
Writing Poetry – Robert Wallace. One of Dr. Trowbridge’s poems are in here.
(I wish that I could say that I read Fowler’s Modern English Usage, but no. Though I'll give it a shot occasionally.)
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott. Of course!
The Writing of Fiction – Edith Wharton.
Steering the Craft -- Ursula K. LeGuin. I like best her chapter on crowding and leaping.

Did I miss anything?

13 November 2006

Word diet!

I had the Symphonians up to 97,126 words. So I started paring.

Today I got it down to 89,570.

I was really elated until I realized that I'd cut only 7,556 words. Which sounds pretty wimpy compared to the word dump my novel has become. Seven thousand words is one of my shorter short stories.

Now you see why I have a hell of a time writing poetry.

So I'm thinking, okay, then let's cut 10,000 words altogether, because that sounds like a big number and a worthy goal. Also I don't have much farther to go if that's my goal.

And then I have to strengthen the Kay/Noel relationship in the book, which means I get to add them all back.

So it goes.

10 November 2006

Elizabeth Bishop vs. Me: who would win?

I pinned the latest Bishop poem over my desk, "The Sandpiper," then sat at my computer, where I was working on my story, and read through the poem a few times.

The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

And then I turned back to my story.

Though Silverlady knew the news was necessary for gossip-crazy raccoons to hear, she also knew that most raccoons looked at it as a chance to get together and blab. It was often said that more news was exchanged between the gossipmongers than the newsmonger actually provided.

"Damn," I said.

07 November 2006

Musing on race.

I was in the office lunchroom, making hot chocolate, when a co-worker came in to fill her water cup and look at the paper and gasped. "They shot at her SUV?" she said, reading an article I'd read earlier. (The SUV belonged to the lady who's running for state auditor.)

"Yeah," I said. "They did apprehend the shooter. A Hispanic man. Allegedly."

I carried my hot chocolate into the office, but then wondered: why did I say he was Hispanic? Did it matter in the case? Not at all. It was a man with a gun who did it; did the color of his skin make him shoot more accurately? No. If a white man had shot the gun, would I have told her "A white man shot the gun"?

So I guess I'm not as color-blind as what I'd hoped. Keep working on it.

06 November 2006

A bit on the raccoons' worldview setup.

Been talking to Eileen Robinson from the critique service F1rstpages.com -- she used to be an editor at Scholastic, among other things. Also I spilled chocolate milk on her, but obviously she was very nice about it. She's going to critique a couple of my stories from my short story collection. Yay! Of course I'm going to pay her. But I'm looking forward to it.

In the meantime, I've been working on the mythology of the raccoon tribes. Right now I'm reading through American Indian Myths and Legends, compiled by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz. (Just discovered that it was banned in Anchorage schools -- somebody didn't read through all the stories, obviously.) I'm just picking up bits and pieces instead of using stories straight out of there, and I'm finding some cool details.

Also working on thinking about a raccoon's creation myth. How would a raccoon look at the world? What's most important to them and their way of life? Also pulling details out of my own way of life. These are Missouri small-town raccoons, so you're going to have some rednecks and some nice church ladies and stoic farmer types and some hellraisers and a lot of nice folk and two-three folk who thinks there's always a conspiracy somewhere.

And then we have the outcast caste, the outlanders, the raccoons who (so they say) are only wild raccoons who have lost all power of speech, uncivilized as any bird or dog or human. A lot of prejudice against these. Unfortunately for Thorn, he has to tell everybody that his successor was born from an outlander mother. Actually Thorn's successor, Silverlady, is a member of the tribe, but the spirit of death came and killed her litter just after it was born. Thorn managed to save Silverlady, but he has to keep her identity secret so the spirit of death doesn't find her again.

Also, to make things more interesting, the gods here are not all-knowing or all-powerful. (And actually, I don't think that our God is all-knowing and all-powerful, either. St. Thomas came up with that theory, and the church fathers were probably all over that. What better way to say, "Our god is best?")

I better get to work on the story or else I'm going to have 30 sale books show up on my desk today.

03 November 2006

Explicating at work!

While I was noodling on my story, I remembered a quote from "Death of a Hired Man" by Robert Frost pertaining to home, so, since I was at work, I went online and found the poem and got the quote. And then I started thinking about Elizabeth Bishop, one of the poets I studied while in grad school. I really loved her stuff, and I missed reading poetry.

So I went online and found "The Moose" at Poets.org (note: be sure to get a proper website when looking up poems -- some websites might mess up the formatting, or the spacing, or some dang thing). I printed it off, trimmed it to size, and tacked it up over my workstation.

I have been very happy with this arrangement. When I read poetry out of a book, I tend to skim along because I have this urge to read as many pages as possible within a short time span. I don't linger over the text, make connections. But with Bishop's poem on my wall, laid completely out, I can move around in the text and find those connections so easily (no page-flipping!), think about the poem as I work, take short glances, or long glances. So I can think about the dogs that keep appearing in the poem, or the use of the colors red and pink, try to figure out that "twin" thing she has going on at the beginning, and the thing with the houses and churches and the moose.

In other words, I wish I'd thought to do this long ago!

02 November 2006

Jennifer's list and what it means for me.

Actually remembered to turn my calendar over today.

In working on the raccoon story, I remembered an article by Jennifer Armstrong from the Horn Book which talks about how she likes to set up her stories. In revising Symphonians, I was really disappointed in how few images I had and how there seemed to be nothing behind them. I'm going to try and change that in the raccoon story, since I'm rebuilding it.

But here is a short list of questions Jennifer asks herself in writing her books.

What is this book about?
What ideas will be in it?
What images will I use to reinforce these ideas?
What metaphors will I use to reinforce these ideas?
What’s the tone?
What’s the voice?
What characters will I use? And, why did I choose these characters for the purposes of the book?
A list of important words.
Write a list of scenes, and a list of images that appear in each scene.

More on this later, because a brand-new sale book just landed on my desk.
A day later, as it turns out. (I wrote the above yesterday.)

I haven't started answering Jennifer's questions yet, because when I started trying to, I discovered that there's a lot of information I need about the story to answer them. (The shameful thing is that I've already rewritten the story a million times over the years -- I actually started on it in 1995.)

So I'm exploring what the story's about. One of the things it's about is the idea of "home." So I started riffing off that, writing down the definition of "home," etc. Then I got bamboozled by looking at the big picture. Then I thought, why don't I start building from the images I already have, such as the Psyches with their butterfly wing headdresses and the Outcast, the black hound that burns with an oily light?

And then I thought, let's work on it from both ends, and that way I can find out where they meet in the middle. How zen is zat?